I am an engineer who has worked in Singapore and abroad. I really hate the way a lot of the ‘safety’ is implemented in the Singapore Armed Forces and in many private firms in Singapore.

A lot of the ‘safety’ responsibility is off loaded on to the lowest guy down on the food chain. ‘Safety’ when implemented this way is often a form of wayang that is used by those up top to wash their hands off when people get killed. We need to be careful when talking about accident prevention that we don’t inadvertently end up using their selfish language.

In the example we have here, why the fuck is this guy servicing a job several stories up while simply attached to a single rope that is dangling all the way to the ground floor. This is a higher risk way of getting this job done. If possible a aerial lift or gondola should have been used. If rope access was necessary, many developed countries specify that a back up rope is necessary and necessary for precisely this reason. Why wasn’t the road directly below the job blocked off?

There is also a sizable list of things operators need to be trained in and assessed on before they can do this. I get the distinct impression that this was not the case from this company. All the problem here is that all of these things cost money and require proper management which a lot of local companies are too lazy, cheap and third world to perform or demand of vendors. The problem is not that the rope was secure or what not. The problem is that management chose a higher risk way to do this job, exposed people to a lot of risk and likely did not do their do what was needed to compensate for this higher risk. The guys on the ground don’t have the authority to make many of the decisions that would reduce risk for them. A lot of the risk was baked into the cake when the job process was designed. It is thus wrong to throw responsibility to the small fish.

Similarly, I once did some bullshit MINDEF safety meeting about some tonner passenger who had his fingertip de-gloved because he opened the tail board of a tonner himself. There are components in the tail board that are sharp and there are feature that pose pinch and crush hazards. It also does not have a gas strut. The conclusion is that the end user should have followed proper procedure and waited for the vehicle commander to lower the tail board. No mention that the accident was contributed to by the fact that tailboard had design flaws.

In peace time, it might be perfectly reasonable to have a V-com slowly and safely lower the tail board. In an emergency, it is completely unacceptable to demand this. It is unacceptable for the tail-board to tear your finger tip off but of course the latter costs money and creates work for upper management.

As for Aloysius Pang, the news articles talking about whether Aloysius was able to move fast enough to get out of the way of the moving gun breech. This is bullshit. Why wasn’t the gun locked out so it could not be moved? And if the task requires that the gun be elevated, or depressed surely there must be a safer way to do this as a matter of both machine and process design.

Many industrial machines have a service or test mode where actuators are only allowed to run at a reduced speed while sounding a warning that movement is about to begin. This is something that would not cost much to implement. I would not be surprised if the drive system for the gun already comes from the factory with this capability installed but is not in use. As above, the average NSman has very little authority to make the changes that reduce risk for himself.

I hope for the day that the suggested solution to an accident like this is not something along the lines of: “All you small fry must follow SOP while becoming better at ensuring you and your buddies siam when the machine is about to crush you to death.” This is not a first world resolution.

This was first passed to Dr Donald Low and posted on his facebook page and reproduced with permission.

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